Britain’s gun community is continuing to battle against WHSmith’s decision to ban under-14s from buying shooting magazines, by launching a petition and encouraging people to send letters of complaint to the newsagent.
The move, which has seen ‘till prompts’ introduced in a number of WHSmith stores to check the age of customers buying shooting magazines, prompted outrage amongst the gun community earlier this month.
Organisations such as Countryside Alliance and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) slammed the ban as “ignorant” and a “knee-jerk reaction to an extremist campaign" on behalf of animal rights activists Animal Aid, and urged the retailer to reconsider.
Despite the backlash, WHSmith indicated it is sticking by its policy. A spokesperson said: “WHSmith aims to offer its customers choice, whilst striking the right balance and not acting as a censor.
“WHSmith seeks to do its best to satisfy all of its customers who often have strongly opposing views. We have not made any recent changes to the way we sell or display shooting magazines.”
In recent weeks a number of pro-gun organisations have launched campaigns to see the ban overturned, encouraging their members to sign a petition and write to WHSmith to express their objection.
Countryside Alliance has listed the contact details of the retailer’s Chairman Walker Boyd on its website, while BASC is urging members to leave a comment on WHSmith’s Facebook page and vote in an online poll.
Both are advising people to sign an online petition, “WHsmiths: Retract Policy on Sale of Shooting Magazines”, which has so far attracted 7,182 signatures.
Speaking to This is Cornwall Simon Clarke, a spokesperson for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said: “We are getting conflicting reports from around the country about how the policy is being applied.
“Some tills appear to have it while other don’t; some are putting the magazines on the top shelves.
“BASC members have been involved in a widespread campaign both online and in person to change this policy. It makes no sense whatsoever. Young people who can quite legally use shot guns and firearms are being prevented from buying magazines on the whim of a retailer.
“The magazines concerned promote best practice, safety and conservation. There’s nothing in there to damage minds.”
Meanwhile David Taylor, shooting campaign manager at Countryside Alliance, said: “It’s got everyone fired up. The whole of the shooting community is angry about this.
“And it’s not just WHSmith banning shooting magazines for under-14s, it’s WHSmith judging what people can and cannot do. They should not be doing this when it is a perfectly legal thing to do.”
Mr Taylor added: “We think it’s ridiculous. There does not seem to be any logical reason for it.
“If you want to use a shotgun there’s no minimum age, although you can’t buy one until you’re 18. People can have a shotgun certificate at any age. It’s the same thing for air rifles and target shooting.
“So this ‘age 14’ cuts out a lot of people who can legally shoot. It’s a spurious suggestion to say 14 is the age when people can buy magazines.
“Young people who are interested in it, the magazines tell them how to care for the countryside. There’s nothing in them which a young person should not be able to see.”
Mr Taylor continued: “We have been talking to WHSmith; we are in negotiations with them to try to get the change. We have been encouraging our members to write in to WHSmith to tell them what they think.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) also expressed its frustration. Its CEO Derrick Mabbott said: “It shows that they [WHSmith] haven’t really looked into what these magazines are and what they stand for, and it would be a good idea to try to read some of their own material that they are selling.
“All of these magazines that are sold through WHSmith are supporting an appropriate, legitimate and responsible use of firearms, rather than promoting some sort of gun culture.”
Asked how the NRA viewed WHSmith’s apparent reluctance to reconsider, Mr Mabbott said: “Clearly that is their commercial decision and they have every right to take that decision; I just feel saddened.”